Ethernet vs WiFi: Comparison of Speed and Performance

Marketing 16 minute read 13th May 2024

Internet access has become an essential requirement. From social media scrolling to remote work, we can’t imagine our lives offline anymore. Then, there’s the desire for the fastest Internet speeds, reliability, and security. Due to these requirements, the debate on Ethernet vs WiFi is common.

Some people mistakenly believe one to be better than the other. But can you attach huge Ethernet cables to your mobile devices? No, and that’s why you must choose between the two connection methods depending on the situation.

If you’re unsure where to start, this article will guide you. It will start by discussing the differences between Ethernet and WiFi, going through their pros and cons. Then, you will explore scenarios where one works better than the other. So, let’s start.

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What Is Ethernet vs WiFi?

These are two different types of connections that use the same protocols to provide Internet access to connected devices. In other words, both Ethernet and WiFi are means of connecting to the Internet. But that’s where the similarities end.

People who know this often wonder how they differ, prompting them to ask, “What is Ethernet vs WiFi?” Let’s answer this question by understanding the two separately.

Starting with Ethernet, it is a well-established technology for connecting devices in a wired local area network (LAN.) It relies on physical cables to transmit data. The most common choices are Cat5, Cat6, and fiber optic cables.

On the other hand, WiFi is a technology that uses radio waves to provide wireless networking for devices. Here, a wireless router or access transmits radio signals, eliminating the need for physical wires.

The Difference Between Ethernet and WiFi

Now that you know the basics of Ethernet and WiFi, let’s discuss how they differ in terms of working. That will set the stage for discussions around Internet speed, latency, and other specific areas.

So, when you send or receive data through an Ethernet connection, it first divides the information into packets.

Now, each device in an Ethernet network has a 48-bit MAC address. The network interface card (NIC) adds these addresses, error-checking data, and other controls to the data packets. This creates the Ethernet frame.

These data frames travel through Ethernet cables to a network switch, which acts as the central hub. It receives the data frames, reads them, and sends them to the intended recipient device on the network.

Then, this device extracts the original data packet and processes the information.

When it comes to Wi-Fi connections, they also turn the data into smaller packets. But there’s still a difference between Ethernet and WiFi in terms of working. Before we discuss this difference, there’s something you should know.

When you access something online, your device’s wireless adapter turns the requested information into binary code. The wireless adapter converts this code into radio waves in case of a WiFi connection. These radio waves travel through the available WiFi frequency channels and reach the router.

Instead of a switch, the router acts as a central access point that sends and receives the data packets. It turns the signals back into binary code. Then, it uses its wired connection to the Internet to retrieve the requested information.

Now, the device’s adapter constantly checks the channels and captures the data packets that match its address.

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How Fast Is Ethernet vs WiFi?

Ethernet typically crosses 10Gbps, while WiFi theoretically gives speeds up to 6 Gbps. Ethernet offers significantly faster speeds than WiFi. The keyword here is theoretically because actual speeds are usually much lower. But why is that?

Let’s discuss the reason now that you know the answer to “How fast is Ethernet vs WiFi?”

Wi-Fi signals are at a greater risk of interference since they travel through air. So, even though the higher WiFi standards claim maximum speeds as high as 9.6Gbps, they often fail to deliver. Moreover, devices on a WiFi network share the signals, which reduces the speed.

Conversely, cables allow consistent speeds for data transfer. Besides, each device has its own connection, which increases the speed.

Security of Ethernet Internet Compared to WiFi

Due to the widespread use of wireless connectivity, people believe Ethernet Internet is dead. But this is far from the truth.

Even though WiFi networks provide ease and convenience, there are still significant reasons for choosing Ethernet connections. Speed is one of these reasons, as you read above, and the other is security.

Ethernet is safer than WiFi since it requires physical access to the data. Without a physical connection, unauthenticated users cannot hack into the network. Only you can access the switch, so you’ll know who connects to your network.

On the other hand, WiFi poses risks because it is easier to hack. Even though the latest WPA3 protocols are safer, only a few devices support them.

Besides, a hacker can interpret a lot by knowing your wireless connection’s name, signal strength, traffic patterns, etc.

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3 Advantages of Choosing WiFi Over Ethernet

Now that you know the benefits of Ethernet, let’s turn this around and discuss the advantages of WiFi.

Even though real-life usage of WiFi only provides maximum speeds of 1Gbps, you’ll find many people preferring wireless connections.

Besides, WiFi and Ethernet work for different scenarios, which we’ll discuss later in this article.

To choose the best connection for your requirements, you must know the pros and cons of each. Therefore, the following sections will discuss three advantages of WiFi vs Ethernet.

1. Flexibility

The first advantage of Wi-Fi vs Ethernet is flexibility. You don’t have to sit in one place to use WiFi since information travels through radio waves. You can move around your house or office and still enjoy Internet access.

However, the farther you move away from your WiFi router, the fewer signals your device will receive.

Moreover, interference, like microwaves and other electrical devices, also worsens the speed of WiFi.

So, keep that in mind when moving around.

Moreover, you can connect multiple devices to a single router, whereas one Ethernet cable only connects one device. That’s another aspect of the flexibility WiFi offers.

2. Less Clutter

The fact that WiFi doesn’t require wires gives it another advantage: less clutter. In an Ethernet connection, you need to handle multiple wires at once. Unless you create rolls of wires and systematically handle them, you’ll have a mess around your venue.

Besides, nobody likes tripping on wires when they’re going about their day, right?

Of course, you can run the Ethernet connection through your walls to hide the mess of wires. But that will come at an expense you might not want to make.

In the case of WiFi, you don’t have to worry about tripping over any wires. You can easily sit wherever you like and access the Internet. Moreover, there are portable WiFi routers you can take out while traveling.

This offers convenience, so you don’t have to switch to public networks or cellular data for wireless access. So, if you want aesthetics and want to choose between Ethernet or WiFi, go for the second option.

3. Compatibility

Another reason wireless networks win the debate over WiFi or Ethernet is compatibility. Over 85% of Internet users in the US use their mobile devices to get online.

Now, these wireless devices don’t have Ethernet ports, so you can’t attach cables to them.

Moreover, almost all new mobile devices have WiFi functionalities. Therefore, WiFi provides better compatibility.

Besides, we live in a smart world where things can connect to the Internet. From stoves to TVs, you can buy various devices that can smartly talk to each other through WiFi. This will only get better and more advanced in the future.

To take advantage of these things, you must choose WiFi over Ethernet.

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Is WiFi Better Than Ethernet?

WiFi is better than Ethernet in some scenarios, while Ethernet is better than WiFi in others. Therefore, the question, “Is WiFi better than Ethernet?” isn’t valid. It depends on your requirements and the situation in which you use the connection.

A better question here would be, “When is WiFi better than Ethernet?” So, let’s answer this.

WiFi is better than Ethernet when you don’t want to stay fixed at a single spot while using the Internet. When you want to access the Internet outside your venue, you should also choose WiFi.

An example would be your garden or garage. If you want an Ethernet connection here, you’ll have to buy very long Ethernet wires, which can become expensive.

Moreover, WiFi works best when you want to connect multiple devices. Let’s say you have a study session at home.

In this case, you can’t provide an Ethernet connection to all of your friends. The same goes for businesses offering free WiFi hotspots. But we’ll discuss this later.

Alternatively, Ethernet works better when you want faster speeds, higher latency, security, and a solid connection.

For example, online gaming requires an Ethernet connection because every click matters. You can’t afford to lose the connection even for a second. But when you’re just scrolling social media, the stakes aren’t that high, and a little delay is negligible.

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Does Ethernet Affect WiFi?

The effect of Ethernet over WiFi ultimately depends on the capabilities of the routers.

Since the Ethernet cable will handle large data packets, it will take up considerable bandwidth. Here, people using WiFi over the same router will face problems such as slower speeds.

If you do gaming or are a heavy streamer, you might wonder, “Does Ethernet affect WiFi?”. In this case, the Ethernet connection affects WiFi negatively.

Additionally, Ethernet provides users with more control over the connections. After all, accessing the router’s admin panel is easier on a PC with an Ethernet connection. Users can change the settings and mess with WiFi speeds.

For example, some routers prioritize wired connections over wireless.

However, Ethernet and WiFi use different channels to transmit data. As mentioned earlier, Ethernet uses cables, while WiFi uses radio waves. This can affect the performance positively.

With one device using Ethernet, there’s less competition for bandwidth on the WiFi network. This can lead to a stronger and more stable connection for all WiFi-connected devices.

Choosing Between WiFi or Ethernet for a Business

There’s no clear winner between Ethernet vs WiFi. Both have pros and cons. Choose Ethernet for the best speeds, reliability, and security. WiFi works better for convenience, mobility, and aesthetics.

For businesses, a combination of Ethernet and WiFi works best. Use Ethernet for critical tasks like business transactions, data handling, etc. Free Internet access works well in attracting and retaining customers.

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